Ruthless Armagh take Kildare to task in Division Two clash
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Armagh 0-16 Kildare 0-10
JACK O’Connor took a sharp in-take of breath before answering the first meaningful question of his post-match briefing outside the Kildare changing rooms on Saturday night.
After a few soft balls were lobbed in the Kerry man’s direction, he was asked which aspect of Kildare’s performance against hosts Armagh disappointed him most of all.
“Look, I don’t want to criticise the Kildare players,” he replied.
“To be fair, we fought hard, but they handled the conditions better than we did. They’re a big, physical team and they were hurting from last week [against Laois]. And they obviously wanted a reaction and they got a reaction and we couldn’t match that.”
O’Connor also insisted his players weren’t surprised by the physical edge Armagh brought to Saturday night’s stormy proceedings.
“No, it didn’t surprise us at all. Any team under McGeeney are going to be physical. They’re a big, physical outfit and they’d be very formidable here at home.”
Given Armagh’s insatiable appetite for executing the ugly things well on Saturday night – chasing, harrying, tackling, putting their bodies on the line – Kildare had to earn the right to play at The Athletic Grounds. But they never did. They didn’t come close.
All defeated managers tread a fine line in their post-match interviews. A wily operator like O’Connor managed his with aplomb.
No doubt, though, he was privately livid with the way in which Armagh ran over the top of his side.
The Lilywhites allowed themselves to be bullied in the first half and they looked well and truly softened up in the second half despite a gale at their backs and a very retrievable deficit in front of them.
Some of Armagh’s play was coarse at times, but it never came close to reaching the cynical threshold of O’Connor’s Kerry team during their 2006 All-Ireland quarter-final with Armagh.
But, rather than nit-pick over the pushing and shoving antics in the middle sector of the field prior to several of Kildare’s first half kick-outs, there was so much to admire in the way the home side went about their business, especially in such treacherous conditions.
For the vast majority of Saturday night’s Division Two clash, the Orchard men played with controlled aggression and they were ruthlessly efficient in nullifying the visitors’ threats.
Kildare have always been a team of Max Baers. As far as was humanly possible, Armagh went height for height in the middle of the field.
But it wasn’t necessarily height that helped them deal with Kildare; it was their sheer force of will.
Armagh hit Kildare hard and they hit them often, winning countless turnovers.
“It probably wasn’t football that won it in the end, it was digging in a wee bit deep,” said Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney.
“I love when it’s played physically. Some players play it and rip the jerseys off the players’ backs and it’s [deemed] ‘manly’. Other teams play it and I think it’s called ‘northern’.
“So, I just feel that’s the way the game should be played. I think the game should be played to the rules as much as possible. I think it’s a contact sport. We were giving as good as we got. Probably our ability to take scores against the breeze stood to us. They probably had the same amount of attacks as us but just didn’t get the shots off.”
It wasn’t a night for lying in a heap either, but Kildare did this too often.
Each time a white jersey lay poleaxed it felt like another victory to Armagh on the muddy battlefield.
But the winning of this absorbing contest - rightly acknowledged by McGeeney – wasn’t Armagh’s wind-assisted 0-8 to 0-1 half-time lead, but how they set about Kildare at the start of the second half.
They profited handsomely off a few of Kildare’s early second-half kick-outs with Riain O’Neill (0-2), the all-action Stephen Sheridan and the lively Aidan Nugent hitting four unanswered points.
Kildare sagged after that and never looked like throwing a lasso around their hosts, and most definitely rued Daniel Flynn’s 45th minute goal chance that was cleared off the goal-line by the alert Niall Grimley.
It was the only time Flynn got free of Aidan Forker the entire night.
“It always takes a lot out of a team to play against the wind,” said O’Connor, whose side decided to play against the wind in the first half.
“You always find that in the first 10 minutes of the second half you’re trying to find your legs, and Armagh started the second half well, to be fair, and got three or four points. It was a bit of a hammer blow for us. We battled away but Armagh handled the conditions a lot better than we did.”
Jamie Clarke came in for Conor Turbitt on 28 minutes and caressed two balls between Kildare’s goalposts on the cusp of half-time.
But his night was over three minutes into the second period when he picked up a second yellow card after a hand-off on the pursuing Shea Ryan.
Clarke was yellow-carded before the resumption for shouldering Daniel Flynn as the two sets of players made their way off the field at the interval.
“We’d feel the sending-off was harsh but I suppose everybody will tell you they’ve never come across a manager who gets a man sent off and doesn’t think it’s harsh,” McGeeney noted.
Substitute Adam Tyrell got the scoreboard moving a little for Kildare in the 49th and 50th minute to reduce the arrears to 0-12 to 0-4 while Paddy Brophy found his range with a couple of fine efforts.
But Armagh generally protected their goal well, ably assisted by late substitute Brendan Donaghy who made one superb catch under pressure and intercepted another Kildare attack.
Mark Shields and Callum Cumiskey hit brilliant points for Armagh that kept the visitors at bay while makeshift full-forward Greg McCabe saw his stoppage-time effort on goal saved by Kildare ’keeper Mark Donnellan.
While there may have been plenty of issues in Armagh’s performance against Laois seven days earlier, there wasn’t a weak link to be found on Saturday night with Sheridan, Rian and Oisin O’Neill, Forker, Grimley and Nugent all impressing for Geezer’s side.
“We made some changes this week. You know, it’s not easy leaving good players off [the team],” McGeeney said.
“If you get a defeat you want to give other players a chance, that’s when you have to do it. You’ve a couple of sleepless nights during the week.
“We’d like to think anybody who plays well at training they get a chance. If you show up at training on a Tuesday and a Thursday that’s your argument for playing on Sunday or Saturday night, and we try to stick to that as much as possible.”
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A Forker (0-1 free), J McElroy; C O’Neill, S Sheridan (0-1), M Shields (0-1), N Grimley (0-1), O O’Neill (0-1); J Og Burns, C Cumiskey (0-1), S Campbell (0-2); C Turbitt, R O’Neill (0-4, 0-3 frees), A Nugent (0-2, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free) Subs: J Clarke (0-2, 0-1 free) for C Turbitt (28), J Morgan for C O’Neill (46), G McCabe for A Nugent (69), B Donaghy for M Shields (70), A McKay for C Cumiskey (72)
Yellow cards: J Clarke (36-38)
Red card: J Clarke (38)
Kildare: M Donnellan; C Kavanagh, M O’Grady, P Kelly; K Flynn, S Ryan, D Hyland; K Feely, T Moolick; P Cribben (0-2), P Brophy (0-3), K Cribben; N Kelly, D Flynn (0-1), J Hyland Subs: N Flynn for M O’Grady (h/t), A Tyrell (0-3, 0-2 frees) for J Hyland (45), J Byrne for C Kavanagh (46), J Robinson (0-1) for T Mollick (56), L Power for N Kelly (66)
Blood substitution: J Byrne for S Ryan (39-41)
Yellow card: D Flynn (41)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)